In 2000 the Ben Folds Five, on Caroline Records, breaks up. In 2001, Ben Folds releases his first solo record, Rockin' the Suburbs on Epic Records, part of the Sony BMG conglomerate. In 2003 and 2004, Ben Folds releases three EPs through his own distributorship, Attacked by Plastic. In 2005, Ben Folds releases his second solo LP, Songs for Silverman on Epic Records. He also releases a cover of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" through iTunes. In the beginning of this year, Ben Folds contributes a few songs to the "Over the Hedge" soundtrack, including a Clash cover.
Now, it's October 2006 and Ben Folds releases Supersunnyspeedgraphic: The LP. This release serves as a compilation of highlights taken from the material released between his first and second solo records. While Rockin' the Suburbs featured delicate songs molded by sentiment, Songs for Silverman featured more solemn, reserved songs. While the former presented Folds as an aesthetic, creating a kaleidoscope of emotions, the latter presented Folds as an ascetic, reserved from feeling, almost simply stating facts in song form. This allowed the listener to come to his/her own conclusions about what mood the songs on Silverman were trying to create. Since the material on Supersunnyspeedgraphic was recorded between these two albums, it makes sense that the music is a mixture of both styles.
Although the new songs don't pulsate with the energy of early Ben Folds Five, the new LP weighs heavier on quick-tempo songs than the ballads. This creates an album that drives the listener, as opposed to one that glides in and out on whispers. With the ballads and slower songs, Folds utilizes the romanticism of his first solo LP, creating lush and tender songs. In opposition, the faster songs seem to be simple statements strung together, allowing the listener to come to his/her own version of the songs' central meanings. This is refreshing in an age of albums with force-fed conclusions. This technique makes the listener think as opposed to letting the album do the thinking.
Interestingly, Folds chose almost all of the covers from his EPs to be included on the new disc. Showing off his wide variety of influences, Folds' covers the Cure, the Divine Comedy, the Darkness, and Dr. Dre. The Dr. Dre cover, "Bitches Ain't Shit" was deemed as force-fed irony by some upon its initial release. However, there may be more to this song than Folds simply trying to be funny. When the song was originally released on Dre's The Chronic in 1993, Dr. Dre had felt betrayed by Eazy-E. Therefore, the tone of the song was one of anger and bravado. In the Folds version, regret and sadness are selected for the tone. Remember, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E were once good friends, meaning that while Dre was certainly angry, he was probably also hurt by his friend's betrayal. This shows that Folds has the capability to draw underlying meanings from old songs simply by changing the sound, leaving the lyrics intact. I like that. Of course, it's entirely possible that Folds was just trying to be funny and I am reading too deeply into this.
So, what's the purpose of this release? It's not a greatest hits package, but it's not really an original release either. It's an overview of the lesser known Folds work, but it also has new takes on previously released songs. It seems that Folds wanted to bring his music to a wider audience than had known of the EPs, but also give his faithful followers something new. With its new takes on older songs, this disc serves as an hor' dourves for newer fans and as a dessert for older ones.
How, by the way, is Ben Folds punk rock anyway? Well, his music isn't really that punk at all. It's slow, commercially appealing, and something your Grandma probably won't mind listening to. But, apparently, the man is big on the DIY ethic. All three EPs were recorded, released, and distributed by Folds himself without the Epic name branded onto them. This means no one censored Folds, told him what to say or how to say it on these releases. So, this new release is basically unfiltered Folds. Ben Folds as seen by Ben Folds. He did all this while still being retained on Sony's roster. Not many other artists on big labels can claim to have put out records without outside interference.
Music without censorship and filters is pretty punk. So, Folds continued to retain the benefits from being on a big label, but put out what he wanted to put out without anyone telling him what he could do. This also means that he probably got a bigger percentage, if not all, of the profit, from the EPs as he released them himself. Is that punk? Johnny Rotten would probably say it is. Jello Biafra would probably say it isn't. Like the meanings in Folds' music, the decision of what to think is left up to the listener.
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